Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman

Francis Ezem

Maritime experts have blamed the current massive cargo and vessel congestion rocking Nigeria’s two biggest cargo seaports, the Lagos Ports Complex and the Tin Can Island Ports Complex, both in Apapa on the high level of incompetence and lack of proper planning on the part of the technical regulator, the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA.

Recall that the shipping companies had for several months now raised the alarm over an imminent congestion at the ports and also threatened to impose congestion surcharge on Nigeria-bound consignments. On the other hand, terminal operators had following the closure of the border last year warned that measures be put in place to remove all overtime cargo to avert looming congestion, which was never heeded.

Some of the experts, who spoke with BUSINESS AND TRANSPORT, are of the strong view that the congestion would have been averted if the right steps were taken, thereby saving shippers and other port service users the harrowing experience in terms of moving their cargo in and out of the nation’s seaports.

Managing Director of a Lagos-based logistics firm, who spoke in an interview on the condition of anonymity, noted that if adequate measures were adopted, the current congestion would have been averted, arguing that the signs had been there but no one paid attention.

According to him, in other saner climes, people plan and make projections on possible increase in the volume of cargo, given other economic situations, but regretted that same does not apply in Nigeria due to the caliber and quality of persons recruited to head critical national agencies such as NPA.

“The current congestion is avoidable because the signs were there, especially following the closure of the borders in August last year. Even before the closure of the borders, some terminal operators have been shouting on the increasing volumes of cargo abandoned at the ports, some of which have been there for over four years.

“Many of us heard that there were plans by NPA to move some of these abandoned cargo to the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal but as I speak with you, I am not aware that any of the abandoned cargo has been moved out of the ports to create space for fresh consignments.

“It is regrettable that Nigeria would be facing this level of port congestion more than 14 years after the ports were reformed and concessioned to private terminal operators. This is even more worrisome that vessel queues have returned to the ports in Lagos. It is is a national embarrassment that vessels would have to queue for over 40 days”, he lamented.

Available statistics show that as far back as July last year, more than 1, 700 fully loaded containers of overtime cargo were abandoned at the nation’s ports, which increased tremendously following the closure of the borders. Also a total of 1, 179 used vehicles including scraps and movable ones were trapped at Ports and Terminal Multi-Services Limited PTML alone.

Details of these figures show that APM Terminals Apapa Limited alone then accounted  for 1, 259 containers, many of which have been at the terminal for between 90-4,000 days, while the 1,179 vehicles comprising 11 gazetted but not cleared and 1, 168 ungazetted others are still outstanding at PTML.

Another stakeholder who also spoke on the worsening congestion, noted that several stakeholders’ meetings were summoned and attended by representatives of shipping lines, terminal operators, Nigeria Customs Service, freight forwarders and importers, but regretted that none of the recommendations was implemented.

Some of the recommendations, according to him included moving some of the abandoned and overtime cargo to Ikorodu while some containers should be moved to some off dock terminals to create space for incoming consignment, none of which was enforced.

On the planned diversion of vessels to the Eastern Ports, he noted that it would only create more hardship for the importers, who for instance would be faced with the challenge of moving consignments meant for Lagos from the Eastern Ports even in the face of increasing haulage cost due to poor road infrastructure.

He said: “At the long last, the economy suffers because the importers would naturally pass the additional cost to the final consumers, which leads to price increase and inflationary trends, which is not good for any economy, not even a fledging one like Nigeria’s”

Further investigations showed that due to the poor state of the roads, which remains the only transport mode for cargo movement, haulage cost has increased as it now costs between N600, 000 and N700, 000 to move 20-foot and 40-foot containers respectively to warehouses in Lagos, and more than N1.3 million to convey goods to other parts of the country, which might likely worsen with the diversion of ships by NPA.